Londonstani on twitter
Previous posts
Admin
Search
Reference

FOR THOSE TIMES WHEN "DURKA DURKA MOHAMMAD JIHAD" JUST WON'T CUT IT

 

Entries in media (10)

Saturday
Mar032012

Changing relationships - Government and the people(s)

UK diplomat Tom Burn, an old friend of Londonstani's from the days they both studied Arabic at university, has started blogging on Her Majesty's Service. This, in Londonstani's view, is to be encouraged because 1) Tom is very clever and needs to be listened to, 3) It's not common to hear what clued-up people working in government are thinking about the evolving nature of how governments and people interact, and 3) Tom has good taste in Hip Hop music. (So please, drop him a line and ask him what OutKast and The Pharcyde can teach us about power relationships).

Tom's latest post makes some very interesting points about governance:

"What I think is interesting about the Arab Spring and the broader impact of change driven online across the world, is the potential it has not only for changing the relationship between citizens and government, but also for changing government itself. A government that simply changes how it delivers its messages might be missing the point. Might online society also change government itself?"

And then the killer line at the end;

"We cannot just go on governing in the same way, but communicating digitally. We also have to think about how to govern digitally."

In Londonstani's experience, sensible grown up types sometimes get a little incredulous at the idea that interwebs can change the world, and so dismiss the whole discussion outright. In Londonstani's view, the point here is that the online world, social media and the rest, is just a new tool for disseminating and sharing information. This by itself is not a new phenomenon, but a continuation of a process that started with people drawing on cave walls before progressing to print, radio and television. However, it does change the relationship people have with information; where does it come from, who controls it, how much are you willing to share, how much do you get to know etc. This in turn affects the relationship between people, and between people and power.

Mubarak's end didn't come when Facebook and Twitter arrived in Egypt, but when al Jazeera showed Egyptians that US warships were moving through the Suez Canal on the way to attack Iraq.

Friday
Jan272012

Pakistani media, society and the pussycat vigil-aunties

Londonstani did not intend this blog to be dominated by crap in the Pakistani media. But, hey, sometimes the crap in the Pakistani media is just too amusing to ignore (eg. Mansoor Ijaz, Pakistan's own Austin Powers). And then, sometimes, something that seems frivolous and silly allows you a sneaky peak into the dynamics beneath the surface.

About a week ago, a Karachi television show host decided to spice up her regular format by descending on a public park to camera-ambush couples (who didn't seem to be doing much other than chatting or walking arm-in-arm) and demanding to see their marriage certificates.

So far so (sadly) predictable. However, what happened next says more about the direction of Pakistani society than any much of the social science research you are likely to come across.

Best to let Declan Walsh of the New York Times explain:

"This hourlong spectacle, broadcast live on Samaa TV on Jan. 17, set off a furious reaction in parts of Pakistan. Outrage sprang from the Internet and percolated into the national newspapers, where writers slammed Ms. [Maya] Khan's tactics as a "witch hunt...

"Now, the protests are headed to court. On Friday, four local nongovernment organizations will file a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan's Supreme Court, hoping to galvanize the country's top judges into action."

In a country where estimates say that only about 10 percent of the population has access to the internet, it's interesting to see a protest that started on social media platforms amongst a wealthy minority (who are seen as detached and culturally unattuned to the "masses") trickled down to mainstream media and from there it made its way to the legal process. (Seasoned Pakistan watchers might not see this as surprising at all, but Londonstani suspects it would be news to many).

Declan balances this with the observation that the uproar against Maya Khan's intrusion is limited to the English press and has hardly been mentioned in the Urdu newspapers, which are far more widely read.  As for Maya Khan, she says that her critics are "an elite class that don't even watch my show".

But there's more to this than a cultural tussle (as central as that is to many of the currents that belie Pakistani society and politics). It's also about media and society in a country where most people are under 30.

Back to Declan:

"The controversy has rekindled a debate about the direction of Pakistan's TV industry. Since liberalization in 2000, the sector has exploded from one channel - the state-controlled one - to more than 80 today, 37 of which carry national or local current affairs.

"The media revolution has transformed social and political boundaries: in 2007, feisty coverage played a central role in pushing Pervez Musharraf toward the exit; in recent weeks it helped guard against a possible military coup.

"But television is also a lucrative business controlled by powerful, largely unaccountable tycoons. Last year Pakistan's television stations had advertising revenues of more than $200 million, according to Aurora, an industry journal - 28 percent more than the previous year.

"Amid stiff competition for viewers, channels have relied on populist measures - rowdy political talks shows and, in recent times, vigilante-style "investigative" shows modeled on programs in neighboring India."

Obviously, Pakistani media and the political and financial context it operates in is subject to the same pressures that you'd expect to find in many countries. Money needs to be made, the right (or wrong) people need to be placated and costs need to be kept down. The result is that what is presented as daring and edgy, is in fact very safe territory - in financial and political terms (ie. it's cheap and doesn't annoy the wrong people).

One of the people Declan spoke to called Maya Khan and her cohort of "crusading" reporters, "pussycat vigilantes" because they "avoided challenging rich or powerful Pakistanis, whose Western-style lifestyles go unexamined."

"They only go after the people they know will not bite back," said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture writer.

For those looking to see how not to do television on the cheap, here's Maya on her one-woman mission to fix Pakistan.

Monday
Jan232012

Ministry of You-Can't-Make-This-Up

After boring and horrifying Pakistanis in equal measure, the "memogate scandal", took a turn for the absurd and downright embarrassing a couple of days ago. 

It turns out Mansoor Ijaz, the guy at the centre of the scandal, who might be coming to Pakistan to testify, played the part of a  comentator in a 2004 music video that featured naked female wrestlers.

(Sorry mum) But the video is here. Yes, you just couldn't make this stuff up.

And the best Pakistani comment on the whole sad debacle (remember, the memo was totally pointless):

"A businessman from Lahore, who wishes to stay anonymous, thinks Mansoor Ijaz’s wife is the coolest woman on the planet. “OMG! There is a woman out there who wants her husband to partake in such activities and was there by his side all the way through. She is definitely a keeper.”

(Actually, there's a whole bunch of hilarious comments in Tazeen's article for the Express. Read it here)

Monday
Jan232012

Not the front page

.. more like page 4 or 5. Maybe even the back page.

Front-page news in Pakistan is often boring. Seriously, there comes a point when you just want to be told if a coup has actually happened. Everything else will be wrapping tomorrow's nans.

Like many other places in the world, news coverage in Pakistan often has more to do with the political leanings of the people who own the outlets than it has to do with actual, legitimate interest or news worthiness.

However..

Whereas in those other parts of the world, the really interesting stuff gets ignored or repressed, in Pakistan it just appears buried in local news or the comment section. So, it was with great interest that Londonstani read Umar Cheema's article about the tussle between the old and new faces in Imran Khan's PTI party.

"Imran Khan-led PTI has accepted political heavyweights in bulk, majority of them constituting the lot of people who found space shrinking for them elsewhere. Although their decision of joining has given a boost to the PTI, the political baggage they carry along is something hard to defend within and outside the party."

Read the article in English-language daily, The News, here:

The reason this is interesting rests on Imran Khan's promises of a new politics. Many observers have previously said that Imran is setting himself up for a fall if he presents himself as some sort of magic bullet cure for all of Pakistan's problems. As Pakistan scholar and former foreign correspondent Anatol Levin pointed out recently;

"The truth is that Pakistani politics revolves in large part around politicians' extraction of resources from the state by means of corruption, and their distribution to those politicians' followers through patronage. Radically changing this would mean gutting the existing Pakistani political system like a fish. Nor is it at all certain how popular the process would really be with most Pakistanis."

Imran has become something of a saviour-in-waiting for many Pakistanis, particularly the young, which is understandable but also a little scary. Pakistan's problems are going to need concerted action by many, many people over a number of years. There are no quick-fix solutions of the sort favoured by taxi drivers all over the globe. The answer for Pakistan lies in developing a new political culture.

However, it seems as though Imran's political party is in many ways business as usual.

Cheema describes Imran Khan's reaction to a resolution pushed by long-time party members wary of the new big wigs coming on board; "As the reading was done, nobody stood up to oppose but Imran Khan. 'The resolution stands rejected,' he said, explaining that he did not want to cause any embarrassment to the new comers."

No consensus, debate or compromise, just the clunking fist.

If you're new to the Imran Khan phenomenon, a good place to start is this post on the Cafe Pyala blog:

Pakistan is indeed, as he hammers home again and again, saddled with a parasitic elite that has insisted on usurping, keeping and abusing power to the detriment of the many hovering around the poverty line; but his reductionist identification of them as people who have strayed from the one faith and become 'westernized' is sadly flawed. The powerful elite of which he speaks include the shallu-wearing landlords and industrialists that are now part of his movement for justice. They can also wear beards, uniforms and burqas as well as jeans and ape Saudi Arabia as well as Western pop culture, but apparently that isn't quite as bad."

Read the whole thing here.

Buried in the corner of another English daily, The Express Tribune, was a story illustrating that there are politicians who do "get it".

One is Marvi Memon, an activist and member of Pakistan's People's Assembly, who has launched a new political party in the southern Sindh province.

“Sindh has unfortunately been blessed with a lot of political parties,” she [Marvi] said. “But the mindset – the ‘bothaar’ (feudal) – exists in a sector in-charge or in an SHO [local officials] or feudal. These are old politics.” The ‘new politics’ is good governance, rule of law and institution building."

Another politician, Mehtab Rashidi, sounded a pretty circumspect tone about what the head of the party would need to accomplish.

“Let’s say a few hundred thousand show up – and I’m being optimistic (at estimating that),” she says. “But what next? That’s a big question mark.” She points out what many people demand of anyone eyeing an election: “He has to work on the roadmap. What type of change? How can you change the mindset overnight or in weeks? What happens if early elections are called – is he prepared for that? He has to do a lot.”

This all reminds Londonstani of Stephen Cohen's comments last week in the Express Tribune (weekend magazine, this time) that it's not clear how, but Pakistan is bound to change. 

Friday
Jan202012

What is state-funded broadcasting overseas for?

Being a voice of reason when irrationality is the only game in town is not easy. On Tuesday, the Taliban killed Pakistani journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif, a correspondent in the Tribal Areas for Voice of America radio. 

The killing of reporters working for foreign, often Western, state-funded broadcasters tragically makes the point that they are often key frontline actors in conflict zones. Despite the fact that the influence they wield is enough to get them killed, it's not always understood by the people who fund their activities in the first place. 

Alex Belida, long-time US news professional, suggests over at the Mountainrunner blog that there are two lines of argument when it comes to justifying US public-funded broadcasting overseas.

Whereas Alex and other professionals believe that what they do should be about good journalism, he suggests that law makers in Congress (who approve funding for these organisations) feel their mission should be propaganda, in that it should feature "content which aggressively criticizes our perceived opponents around the globe while downplaying our own national faults."

While Alex has a bunch of proposals for re-organising and funding the multitude of radio and television station stations that make up the US international broadcasting world, he rightly stresses a core concern:

"I believe any discussion of the future structure of U.S. International Broadcasting must first address a more fundamental question: what is its purpose?"

Londonstani sympathises with Alex's position on this. As a journalist who has been lucky enough to work abroad for one of the world's best broadcasters, the BBC, Londonstani has seen seen first hand what sort of return a country gets on its investment in good public-service broadcasting overseas.

In many, many countries where Londonstani has worked, the BBC will be the one (or one of a very few) trusted sources of objective information. This generates the kind of positive vibe around the UK that you just can't buy.

(One example that comes to mind occurred when Londonstani rolled into the one-donkey central Chadian town that is Mongo. Suspicious and curious townspeople crowded round. When Londonstani explained that he was a journalist with the BBC, moods immediately lightened, "Ah yes, the BBC!... You must know Mohammed Abdullahi" (who Londonstani had never heard of but suspects is the local language correspondent). Cans of Pepsi were passed around and the Ak47s put away.)

There is also a utility beyond image building. In many countries in conflict or political crisis, local media will often be a party to the problem. And local people will be aware of that. Non-partisan media that doesn't need the patronage of a local powerbroker to survive can afford to challenge violent narratives. For example, making the point that a country's or community's problems are not going to be solved by the sort of zero-sum arguments that become more attractive in times of conflict. 

Again, this plays a role in improving conditions and positioning the country seen as responsible as a potential parter, arbitrator etc. 

Propaganda broadcasting on the other hand is likely to be counterproductive. Audiences, even those in the most remotest of places, quickly catch on when they are being lied to or patronised. They usually then either switch off or take what they want from the broadcaster and ignore the underlying message. (Like say al Hurra). 

If like the US or the UK, you seek to draw international legitimacy on the basis of a set of values. Public-funded broadcasting is very cost-effective way of showing you mean what you say.

As a British taxpayer rather than an American one, Londonstani is no position to offer comment on how the US organises its affairs, but would agree with Alex's point on this:

"I would argue that to enhance a mission of accurate, objective and comprehensive journalism, it is time to remove USIB altogether from government control and funding."